Geopolitical Notes From India
M D Nalapat
THIS columnist stayed at the Imperial Hotel in the Japanese capital during October 27-30. By coincidence, this was the same period when Prime Minister Narendra Modi was visiting, and he and his delegation was at the same hotel . The Japanese are a very polite people, and their charm and courtesy are evident to the visitor from the point of entry. Even the airport Immigration desks are manned by officers who are polite, rather than the bad-tempered sort that seem so common in similar facilities in countries such as Russia. The Imperial Hotel is more than a century old, and has been rebuilt twice during that period. It is understated yet elegant, the rooms being small by US and Indian standards of 5-star excellence, but are comfortably furnished, while the service is impeccable. The only problem facing an Indian visitor is that Third World citizens find it hard to get a Japanese visa. This columnist had to wait twelve days before getting a 15-day single entry visa, and the process involved multiple visits to a private company that the Japan embassy in Delhi had outsourced visa processing to.
Hopefully, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tokyo will understand that first impressions matter, and ensure that its visa process gets smoothened as is the case nowadays with China.Given the need in Japan for trained human power from outside, it would be helpful for the world’s third biggest economy to ensure that about a hundred thousand Information Technology, nursing and other professionals from India come to Japan and work there for 5 year terms . The people of Japan are warm and friendly, and make visitors feel at home. Prime Minister Modi must have returned to Delhi with a smile, as his close friend and Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe, agreed to a $ 75 billion currency swap agreement.
This will provide a cushion for foreign exchange transactions and assist in ensuring that the value of the rupee not fall any further, but instead rise closer to its natural level. Sadly, the present top tier of the Reserve Bank of India seems to be the least effective of any of its predecessors in ensuring liquidity in the economy and stability in the value of the rupee. They were chosen by the Modi government perhaps on the basis of their foreign degrees, and it is clear from their poor performance in their tasks that such qualifications do little to assist an individual to handle real-life situations in countries very different from those where they had their education. Many of the policies of Ministries of Finance and central banks in countries such as India seem to be borrowed wholesale from the textbooks studied by top officials during their university days, and are consequently disastrous. The November 8, 2016 withdrawal of 86% of India’s currency at four hours notice was among the most disastrous steps ever taken by any government in the 21st century, and yet Prime Minister Modi was encouraged to go ahead with this step by the Reserve Bank Governor, the National Security Advisor, the Finance Secretary, the Revenue Secretary and the Cabinet Secretary. Had any of these individuals sounded a note of caution, the shoddy manner in which demonetization was introduced and implemented could have been avoided. But there was unanimous support among them for demonetisation although it is Modi who is bearing the full political cost of this decision and not the top officials who encouraged him to go ahead.
Fortunately for the BJP, memories of that deed are fading. Modi’s Tokyo visit comes in a context where India and Japan are both close to the US. With the long-delayed recent signing of COMCASA ( a communications safety agreement), Delhi is getting even closer to Washington. Bureaucrats in India are among the least efficient in Asia, which is why another important India-US agreement ( BECA) regarding geospatial data has yet to be signed, though hopefully this will get done soon. It is essential for both sides that they cooperate, especially in the context of the need to ensure that the Indian Ocean component of the Indo-Pacific be secure and freely accessed by all countries. Japan and Australia also have a key role in such a process, and have joined hands with India and the US to form the Quadrilateral Alliance.
This alliance needs to be expanded to include Indonesia, Philippines and Vietnam. Relations between Delhi, Jakarta and Hanoi are close, and that with Manila is getting better, even under the mercurial Rodrigo Duterte. The partnering powers will coordinate actions designed to ensure that the waters of the Indo-Pacific are free and open. Naval cooperation has reached an advanced level, and relationships between the respective air forces and armies is not far behind. In such a context there is need to build more advanced aircraft in India. Hopefully, the bureaucracy in India will not be able to prevent the shifting of the production facilities of Lockheed F-16 aircraft to centres in India. This would be the initiation of a process whereby India becomes an important component of the global defence supply chain, rather than simply a buyer of defence equipment, which is almost entirely the case now.
Prime Minister Modi was the first world leader to have been invited by Prime Minister Abe of Japan to visit his holiday home in Yamanishi during this third visit of the Prime Minister of India to Japan.The two leaders would have discussed both economic as well as security issues in a relaxed atmosphere. Incidentally, it was President Xi Jinping of China who first invited Modi to his home town for a visit, followed by the ice-breaking Wuhan summit between the leaders of the two most populous countries in the world, with a total population of 3.6 billion and the world’s largest and third-largest economy in Purchasing Power Parity terms. Then Prime Minister David Cameron of the UK also had Prime Minister Modi as a guest at Chequers,the country home of UK Prime Ministers, although his successor Teresa May ( a classmate of Benazir Bhutto) seems much less warm towards India. Even as Home Secretary, May was against immigration into Britain of even highly trained professionals from India, preferring entrants from the EU despite most of them lacking the skills and earning (and taxpaying) ability of several Indian counterparts.
She has made it more difficult for students from India to enter into colleges in the UK, or to stay for even short periods thereafter, despite having skills that would boost British GNP. As far back as 1992, when India needed loans to ensure that its finances were placed on a sound footing, Tokyo came forward to help. The Japanese have long been close friends of India, which is not a surprise, as both post-1945 Japan as well as post-1947 India have always remained democracies in a continent where dictatorships and authoritarian regimes have not been rare. PM Modi’s visit has further deepened the relationship between India and Japan. Such a bond is among the most important foreign policy priorities of Shinzo Abe, the charismatic Prime Minister of Japan and his friend from India, Narendra Modi.
—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.